Recovering, Saying Goodbye, and Art - The Beijing Experience: Day 5

Tuesday, September 2

Holy lord, I can barely move.  I knew it would be bad after the hike from yesterday.  But...I can barely move.  We set our alarms and the moment I gained consciousness, I could feel the epic ache setting in.  It wasn't just the calves and the thighs and the ankles, but it also included the shoulders and arms.  Why??  Because my arms flailed about wildly yesterday to help keep my balance on the Great Wall.  The flailing about was apparently wilder than I had expected, cause...owwwww...

We actually planned today as our "low-key day."  We knew there would be pain after the hike.  And we were also saying goodbye one one of the crew, so part of the day would be spent getting ready for the airport.  There was no way we could have accomplished much today.

Our hotel's restaurant was upstairs.  And I could feel every step up and down.  It was nearly enough to forego breakfast.  Nearly.  The rain from the last few days was continuing, sputtering just enough for the umbrellas and ponchos to be an ever constant presence.  It is enough to dampen the mood of any person.

I actually feel bad for Beijing right now.  Here it was, ready to show off for four enthusiastic travelers from the States.  Beijing knew it needed to put on a good face for us.  Almost like they did for the Olympics.  Except just for us.  But Mother Nature had other plans.  If you live in a city and it rains, you aren't disappointed.  It's just life...another day.  But if you are traveling halfway across the planet and it rains, the city...the trip itself suffers.  And this is not unique to rain, but difficult weather in general.  Remember the trip to Rome??  I still need a do-over for Rome.  

But I digress.  Where was I??

Fay was heading home today.  She had joined Adele on the Mongolian leg of the trip.  And she had a better deal on her flight if she left today.  Danielle and I coincidentally booked the same flight home as Adele.  We had spent ¥400 ($65-ish) for a car to take us from the airport to the hotel when we arrived a few days ago.  Fay didn't want to spend that on her own (why would she??), so we were going to help her get to the Airport Express train.  Which meant it was finally time to learn the subway system in Beijing.

Here’s the thing though…maps can be deceiving.  We had two or three different maps.  And they had two or three different options for stations.  One map showed a station existed.  Another didn’t.  So Danielle went to the front desk.  Maybe it was Adele.  It was one of them.  Look, Danielle and Adele were the map-readers.  Once I knew they were quicker with the map than I would be, I became a follower.  My hope is they weren’t annoyed by my following.  I could have helped with the mapping.  It just would have taken me longer to do so.  

Anyway (again with the digressing)...

So the front desk person directed us to the two closest open subway stops.  Fay packed up and we began our goodbye journey.  The only downside of our hotel is the distance to the subway.  We had a good 20+ minute walk to either station.  But we found the station and figured out how this whole thing was going to work.

Tickets were ¥2 ($0.40) per ride.  Depending on the station, you either bought your ticket at the gate, then went through security or you went through security, then bought your ticket at the gate.  It looked like you could go with a refillable card, but we didn't know how much we'd be using the card in the next two days, and the tickets were SO inexpensive, it was easier to go with the cash and hand it to the people behind the counter.  But life lesson, don't try to buy two tickets at the same time.  One for the current trip, one for the return trip.  Tickets were scanned getting through the gates.  But getting out of the station, you put your ticket into a machine and you won't get it back.  And tickets can only be used on the day of purchase AND at the purchased station.

I'm pretty sure you didn't miss the security comment above.  Yes, you took your bags off and sent them through the conveyor belt.  This was more of a problem for Fay, as she was loaded up with her bags for the flight.

Fay is ready to go home.
Actually taking the train seems to be the same everywhere around the world.  We figured out the platform and boarded. But we did marvel at the cleanliness and lack of odor on the trains.  Everything was written in both Chinese and English (Thanks, Olympics!!), and it was a highly enjoyable experience.  We made some track changes and ended up at the Airport Express area.  This was ¥25 ($4.00) and would send passengers from the station directly to the airport.  Which meant this was where we left Fay.  Everyone hugged and wished her a safe flight.  We watched her go down the escalator and out of our sight.  

And then there were three.

Our plan for the day, in the continuing theme of "taking it easy," we were going to find the 798 Art District.  We took the train and (I think) changed stations.  As we were on one of the trains, we realized the train had passed the station we wanted.  It seems like that station wasn't quite open yet (though the stop was on the maps - see, this is a thing that happens!!).  So we took the train back one stop before the stop that we wanted.  It would be a longer walk to 798, but it got us in the right area.

I don't know what this is, but it has two of my favorite words in the name.  I'll let you figure out which two...
Well, in theory.  I can't even explain how much we walked to get to the district.  No wait, I can.  Cause we walked almost 15 MILES today.  Remember how I started this whole story??  My body was ravaged and I could barely walk.  Remember how I said we'd "take it easy"??  Yep.  I didn't want you to forget this part.  Because I didn't.

At a point in the walk, Adele jokingly said something about taking a cab home.  I looked at her in all seriousness and said, "Yes.  Yes we will."

Dog on a Median.  This is not an art project.

This street was blocked off.  It looked like The Walking Dead could have filmed here.
Hey, we found our way to 798.  That's all that mattered.  But by this time, we had been traveling for quite a while and it was well past lunch time.  Which meant we needed to find some food.  So instead of going into galleries and shops, we were too busy trying to find the one cafe that the Rough Guide (and I think Fodor's) mentioned was good in the area.  We were looking for the At Cafe.

Before we could look at menus, we plopped down at a table under a giant umbrella.  The weather was still being spotty.  Light rain for a few minutes, then done.  A bit of sunshine, then none.  The giant umbrella would be safe for any occasion.  Then the server brought us a menu.

So up until now, we're had four or five days of purely Chinese food.  And it's been great.  But At Cafe had a more European twist.  Enough of a twist that we decided against water and Coke and tea.  We went for the good stuff.  Sparkling Chardonnay, please.  Why yes, a bottle.  I mean, we're not savages.

Oh, wine...
Was the food amazing??  It was good.  I ended up with an egg, tomato and vanilla (yeah, vanilla!!) pizza.  Duck was ordered.  Bruschetta.  Some kind of fish.  We all were satisfied.  Maybe it was the wine.  Maybe it was the Western toilets in the restaurant.  Maybe it was the wine.  Whatever it was, it ended up being a great time to sit and not worry about anything.

I couldn't pass up the idea of vanilla in a savory dish.
The only issue we were going to run into was the time.  798's shops and galleries seemed to all close around 6p.  It was already 2p and we were just sitting down to lunch.  So we didn't have as much time to wander and shop as I think we all wanted.

Here's the thing about shopping for me...I haven't bought anything here.  Of course, food and tickets to things don't count.  But no souvenirs.  Nothing.  I wasn't planning on bringing back anything of note, but to not have anything??  It's not great.  So I had high hopes on the shopping.

We left our cozy seats under the umbrella and went back into the "real world" of 798 (not before stopping off and getting an ice cream cone for the road, again, we're not savages).  And we just wandered.  Up this street, down this other one.  We stopped into stores here and there.  Both Adele and Danielle made a purchase.  Me...still turned up empty.

I really did enjoy the 798 Art District.  It definitely had that artsy vibe that just makes for a completely different feel for the city.  You just knew there was something cool around every corner and inside every door.  Did I end up buying anything??  Nope.  But it was no big deal.  It was great to look around at everything going on.
A sign for the Ladies Toilet
The more we wandered, the more we realized we needed to head back to the hotel.  Shops were beginning to close and we were running into the concept of Rush Hour in Beijing.  Plus, the more we walked, the more we were sore from yesterday.  We all agreed, we were going to catch a cab.  

How we all felt after walking for the day.
Now this was easier said than done.  There were a handful of cabs in 798.  But the moment we had decided we were going to cab it back, all cabs disappeared.  And it started to rain.  We found a busier street and then realized...we didn't actually know how to catch a cab in China.  Adele did a waving thing that worked before in Thailand.  We were on the bus island of a busy street trying to catch a cab in the rain.  It was looking grim.  So we started to walk towards the subway, looking for cabs the entire way.  Let me tell you, trying to cross a busy street in rush hour while looking for a cab is not fun.

My Car!!
We eventually hailed a cab.  Adele walked into the middle of the street and gave the hotel's business card to the cabbie.  He shook his head and we ran into the car.  He was at a stop light.  And it was going to turn green any second.  Here's where we figured out how the cabs worked.  The cabbie set the meter.  I don't know if it was because of the traffic in Beijing, or if this is a China Thing, but cabs do not charge by the minute.  They charge by the kilometer.  This was an amazing discovery.  So the 30 minute drive in rush hour cost us about ¥50 ($8.15).  We could get on board with this.

Because we ate lunch late, we weren't wildly hungry.  But we knew we had to eat, because otherwise we would die.  We need food to live.  After some Wi-Fi-ing, we came to a consensus.  Around the corner from our hotel was Manfulou.  It was time for hot pot.

Looking back, I had highlighted a part in the Rough Guide that said the folks in Beijing eat early.  This is very much the case.  Because every day, we've been looking for food much later at night (the 8-9p timeframe, you know, when people in more metropolitan areas tend to eat in the States) and every day we were running into places closing as we were looking for food.  I say this as we walked into the restaurant about 10 minutes before they really started closing down.

We kept walking past Manfulou on our way to various places in Beijing.  And some of us (especially Adele) were skeptical.  From the outside, Manfulou looks a bit cheesy.  Big, neon, red lanterns are everywhere outside.  There is a large area outside of the restaurant where people are seemingly able to park their cars.  But the reviews on TripAdvisor were very good.  And we were running out of time.

At this point, we were hungry and walking in a few minutes before close was ideal because we were seated immediately.  The inside of the building was a bit on the gaudy side.  Hot pots were set up at each of our seats.  And the waitress brought over a menu with photos.  Adele jumped up and looked in the cooler for the plum juice we tried the other day.  Success!!  

Smartly, Adele and I had gone to try hot pot in Chinatown, so we kind of knew the drill.  The servers filled up the pots with some kind of hot, oily liquid.  Plates of food came in, as did condiments.  In Chicago, we had choices of liquid.  In Beijing...I think we could have chosen a flavor of liquid.  Seriously, hot pot is confusing.  We began mixing condiments into the oil and made it spicy and tasty.  But hot pot is what it is.  Take a piece of meat/veggie, drop it into the pot.  Cook.  Eat.  It was good.  I was scolded by a server because I was not cooking my steak enough.  Meh, I like meat rare.  This may have been the reason for a bit of intestinal trauma the next morning, but...whatever.  Hot pot!!!!

By the time we had pushed our chairs back and tapped out, the servers were ready to show us the door.  And we were ready too.  We were really exhausted.  And for a day we were supposed to "take it easy," we did the exact opposite.  Well...when in Beijing...

Daily Stats - 34,011 steps, 14.62 miles


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